As I watched Yashar Shayan, Sommelier, high up on a rack of barrels with a clear plastic hose retrieving Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from different barrels at William Church Winery I was reminded of my youth. It became clear to me that I can leverage the skill of siphoning gas I learned years ago growing up in the Midwest.  Siphoning is a skill that every kid growing up in farm country learns.  Transferring gas from one pickup to another or to a tractor in the middle of a field is a necessary skill and ensures that you will be home for dinner. Now if ever called upon, I realized I could siphon wine from barrels.

William Church Barrels

William Church Winery Barrels

This past Saturday, that task belonged to Yashar.  He was preparing for “Life of Wine”, an educational program presented at the William Church Winery, in Woodinville, Washington, the brain child of Leslie Balsley, co-owner of the winery.   The goal of the program was to show how wine changes as it matures over time in oak barrels and the effects of two different types of oak barrels. To do this, Yashar, guided the nine of us through two separate tastings.

First up were two Cabernet Sauvignons identical in every way except one – the type of oak barrel used to age the wine. Once fermentation was complete, the 2008 vintage from Dineen Vineyard in Zillah Washington, was split between neutral oak and new oak barrels:

  • Neutral barrel – 2005 Saury Cooperage (This would be its third use.)
  • New barrel – 2008 Saury Cooperage, Medium Plus Toast

Tasting both wines next to each other clearly showed the aromas and flavors that come from the grape and those that come from a new oak barrel. Fascinating to taste the vanilla in one but not the other;  to taste stronger fruit in one than the other. Eventually, many months from now, both wines will be brought back together for the finished bottle. The winemakers at William Church Winery will carefully blend the wine from these barrels to create a pleasing wine with complexity and layers of flavor.

Next, Yashar presented the group with four Syrahs, all from Dineen Vineyard, but each a different vintage – 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Unlike the cabs in the first tasting, these four Syrahs were not identical, but very close.  Close enough to prove the point – what a difference age makes. The first difference noted was the color. The baby, the 2008, was a dark, inky purple.  The color softened with each vintage, showing less purple and more red.  The elder statesman, the 2005 Syrah, showed equal amounts of red and purple.   The aromas and tastes were also telling.  The 2005 was smooth with the ghosts of black fruit and an amazing finish of bourbon soaked tobacco.  The 2008 was barely underway with immature and very rough tannins.  This glass showed me clearly for the first time what is meant by the phrase, “not integrated”. Wine can be like art, when young it often created with sharp lines and distinct bright colors. As the artist matures and develops more finesse, the art work frequently takes on more depth, with subtle shading and nuances.

Besides comparing the wines, Yashar presented information on the aging process and barrel making.  He also answered many questions from an involved and attentive audience of wine lovers.

This wine class provided some tasting experiences that I have been missing so it was well worth my time.  The cost of the class was $10 with $5 refundable with the purchase of any wine.  Although, my fee was covered by the winery as a media pass, I thought the class well worth $10.  The six abundant pours alone were worth more than the cost of admission. If the Life of Wine class is offered again at William Church Winery, I suggest that you make the time to attend.

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